Yul Moldauer

Getty Images

U.S. men’s gymnasts shake off “disaster” to qualify for Olympics

Leave a comment

It wasn’t pretty, but the U.S. men earned enough points Monday in Stuttgart, Germany, to qualify for the men’s team final at the world championships and clinch a berth in the 2020 Olympics.

Last year’s silver medalist, Russia, sent a message with a massive performance on the first day of qualifiers Sunday, with 2018 all-around bronze medalist Nikita Nagornyy and defending all-around champion Artur Dalaloyan posting scores that held up as the best and second-best by comfortable margins. Russia unsurprisingly finished atop the team qualifications, followed by defending champion China and last year’s third-place team, Japan.

The U.S. men finished seventh, just good enough to qualify for the eight-team final.

GYM WORLDS: Men’s qualifiers into team, individual finals

Monday’s qualification was also imperative for Olympic qualifying. The top nine teams who have not yet already qualified — in other words, the top nine after China, Japan and Russia — booked tickets to Tokyo next year.

But while the U.S. men completed their most important task, their mistakes will keep most of them out of individual events later in the week. Yul Moldauer finished 11th in qualifying to clinch a spot in the all-around. Sam Mikulak barely joined him, finishing 27th in qualifying and only making it to the 24-gymnast final because each country is limited to two participants, the same rule that kept Gabby Douglas out of the 2016 Olympic final.

And the U.S. men only advanced one man to the event finals — Mikulak on the horizontal bar, where he won a bronze medal last year. Moldauer is the second reserve in the floor exercise after finishing 10th.

Mikulak, who also won a team bronze medal at the 2014 world championships, was far from pleased, calling the qualification round “a disaster” for himself and the team.

“I never woke up,” Mikulak said. “That’s the best way I can put it, I don’t know if I just haven’t found my diet right? I thought I was doing everything right, but I just felt so heavy and sluggish today. All these trainings leading up to today, I felt fresh, light and strong; today my feng shui was not where I wanted it to be. It took a couple of events for me to feel right.”

READ: Biles, U.S. women dominate qualifying

The U.S. men started on the floor exercise, where Moldauer earned a score of 14.466 but Mikulak fell twice. Moldauer and Mikulak both fell on the pommel horse, putting the team in a hole.

Trevor Howard‘s solid performance helped to stabilize the team on rings. Mikulak and Moldauer both landed their vaults and broke the 14.5 mark.

Mikulak fell for a fourth time on the parallel bars but still posted a score of 14.333, while Akash Modki hit his routine for a 14.533.

On the horizontal bar, Mikulak finally found his peak form and posted a score of 14.866, which held up as the second-best score of the qualifiers. Shane Wiskus also helped the U.S. team finish strong with a 14.166 on the same apparatus.

Defending team champion China had some surprising struggles in individual events. Xiao Ruoteng fell on the pommel horse, on which he won gold last year, but still finished third in the all-around to earn a chance to improve on his all-around silver medal in 2018. Defending parallel bars champion Zou Jingyuan also will miss out on a chance to defend his title.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

GYM WORLDS: TV Schedule | U.S. Roster

U.S. men’s gymnastics team named for world championships

Getty Images
Leave a comment

World medalists Sam Mikulak and Yul Moldauer headline the five-man U.S. gymnastics team for next month’s world championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

The roster, which also includes Akash ModiTrevor Howard and Shane Wiskus, was named after a selection camp. Mikulak automatically qualified via his combined scores from the U.S. Championships in August and the camp.

The other four gymnasts were chosen by a committee.

They will be tasked with ending the program’s longest global meet team medal drought of the millennium. The U.S. men last earned a world championships medal in 2014 (bronze). They were fifth at the last two Olympics despite placing first and second in qualifying. They were fourth at last year’s worlds behind powers China, Japan and Russia.

A look at the five men going to Stuttgart …

Sam Mikulak
Mikulak has been the top U.S. male gymnast since 2013, winning six U.S. all-around titles, the most in the last 50 years. He is the lone Olympian still competing these days and so valuable that, last year, he was tasked with performing on all six apparatuses in the world team final for the first time. Mikulak finally earned his first world medal last year (high bar bronze), but he yearns for more. A world all-around medal is not out of reach.

Yul Moldauer
The only other man on this team with a U.S. all-around title (from 2017, when Mikulak was injured) or a world medal (floor exercise bronze in 2017). The former NCAA all-around champion from Oklahoma is now embarking on his post-collegiate career, but injuries dogged him the last two summers. If Mikulak is the MVP of this program, Moldauer is its Scottie Pippen at the moment.

Akash Modi
The Rio Olympic alternate earned his place on the team by placing third in the all-around at nationals and second to Mikulak at last week’s selection camp. Modi, who debuted at worlds in 2018, can contribute across many events, which may boost his stock come next year when the teams for the Olympics are just four men.

Trevor Howard
Howard, at 26, is on the older end of gymnasts to make his first world team. He has been competing at the senior national level since 2011, but never better than fifth in the all-around. Why this year? Howard has established himself as a force on still rings, where the U.S. lost the most ground in the 2018 World team final.

Shane Wiskus
Wiskus, the youngest member of the team at 20, is the NCAA all-around silver medalist from Minnesota. He may be better known for this crazy high bar save at nationals. He may be needed on high bar, which in the last few years has gone from a strength to a concern for the U.S. Wiskus has the kind of difficulty to be an asset there, but can he execute at the biggest meet of his life?

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: Danell Leyva splashes out of Ninja Warrior after incredible save

Sam Mikulak halfway to record sixth U.S. all-around title

Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Sam Mikulak is well on his way to a sixth U.S. men’s gymnastics title. He’s just not quite so sure that’s a good thing.

While the two-time Olympian was relatively pleased with his performance Thursday night, when his all-around score of 86.750 gave him a 2.750-point lead over 2017 national champion Yul Moldauer, Mikulak would prefer to have a little more heat on him heading into Saturday’s finals.

Mikulak intentionally watered down his routines to avoid the kind of big opening night mistakes that have plagued him in the past. It worked. Save for a step out of bounds on his vault, he was dominant. His score of 15.350 on parallel bars was the best of the night on any apparatus.

It means he won’t have to put together a big rally if he wants to tie Makoto Sakamoto for the second-most national championships in history and break the modern-era record he shares with Blaine Wilson

It also means, however, that nobody else in the field came close to matching him on a night when the 26-year-old mostly kept it in neutral. Not exactly the best development with the selection camp for the world championships team a month away.

“I do kind of wish there was a lot more nipping at my heels in a way,” Mikulak said. “Especially doing downgraded (routines) today. It is a bit of a struggle. I know all these guys and I kind of know what’s going on behind the scenes as well. It’s a lot of injuries.”

Colin Van Wicklen withdrew after sustaining a concussion during warm-ups. Matt Wenske placed eighth but was forced to withdraw after hurting his ankle on vault. Moldauer’s health issues over the last year have included a back injury and elbow problems. Donnell Whittenburg, an alternate on the 2016 Olympic team who is attempting to get his career back on track, has myriad concerns, from his shoulder to his knees.

Whittenburg put together perhaps his best competition in well over a year until a shaky high bar set in which he nearly came flying off. Though he managed to save it, his score of 11.850 dropped him to seventh overall. Wearing an eye-catching white Jordan brand headband, Whittenburg still believes he took a positive step forward.

Asked if he began making a compelling case to receive an invitation to the world team selection camp in September, Whittenburg nodded even while allowing much work remains to be done.

“I definitely have,” Whittenburg said. “I know if I do my very best, there’s nothing they can say at this point. But for me I didn’t. So if I didn’t do as best as I can, I feel like that always gives (the committee) questions about like ‘What if? What if? what if?’ For me, I feel like for Saturday I need to try and hit all my routines the best as I can.”

He’s hardly the only one. Moldauer technically hit all six of his routines, but four of them contained wobbles or form breaks that cost him.

“I can’t blame it on anyone else but myself,” Moldauer said. “It’s knowing what you need to improve. Look at the score and look at it in a positive way even though it’s lower than usual, there’s always something you can do to make it better.”

The same goes for the rest of the group behind Mikulak that is hoping to make what will likely be a very young five-man world championship team.

“I do wish we had a lot more of the high-level difficulty that we had pre-2016 (Olympics) but we got what we got,” Mikulak said. “I’m just hoping everyone can catch a little bit more of a rhythm and get some more confidence going into Day 2.”

That won’t be a concern for Mikulak. Even with a massive lead, he has no plans on coasting to the finish. He picked up his first world championship medal last fall when he won a bronze on high bar. Now on the back half of a solid career that he admits hasn’t always lived up to its considerable potential, he is going to put together significant upgrades for Saturday, well aware that it will be required when the stage and the stakes get bigger in October.

“I have a little bit of leeway,” Mikulak said. “I proved to the committee, ‘Hey, consistent Sam can do these easy routines and still score well. Let’s see what event finalist Sam can do going into Saturday.’”

The rest of the field hopes it can put up a fight.

“Everyone wants to beat Sam,” Moldauer said. “He’s the top dog in the U.S. and you know, everyone is trying to get to his level and stuff. But you can’t blame him. He’s a veteran. He’s a pro. He’s been in multiple Olympics, you’ve got to give him respect and just kind of follow his steps.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. Gymnastics Championships TV, live stream schedule